The Portokalos family is back in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, as are pretty much everyone who had at least a single scene in the original 2002 smash. Unfortunately, almost every single one of these characters has their own story in the new film, and the attempt to make all of that work in roughly 90 minutes makes for a surprisingly empty yet impressively overstuffed feature.
More than a decade has passed since we caught a glimpse of Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) with their newborn daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), at the very end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and from the moment the new film begins it’s clear not much has changed. The Portokalos family had to shutter two of their three businesses during the recent recession, so Toula is back at her parents’ diner, and Ian is a principal at the same high school where their teenage daughter is now a student. Toula believes her daughter’s love for her is beginning to fade almost as much as she believes her parents, Maria (Lainie Kazan) and Gus (Michael Constantine), need her more than ever. Trying to please everyone and through doing so make herself feel better has left very little time for her relationship with her husband, which has led to some alleged tough times for the once-happy couple. (I say “alleged” because there is never any evidence of this outside of numerous references to feeling that things are stale between them.)
The rest of the Portokalos family is present as well. Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) is as feisty as ever, spouting advice on everything from sex to marriage in almost every scene of the film, while Toula’s brother Nick (Louis Mandylor) runs his own painting business. Cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone) co-owns his own business but has the worst luck finding love, and his sister Nikki (Gia Carides) is still a full-time stylist. Mana-YiaYia is back as well, but her presence in the film largely exists to be a geriatric punching bag for to help maintain a steady stream of yuk-yuks.
Every character has their own journey in the film, but it’s Gus and his search for proof that he is a direct descendent of Alexander The Great that more or less guides the film. While adding his family history to a website specializing in ancestry Gus learns he and his wife were never officially married due to an oversight with their paperwork dating back 50 years. Maria is shocked by this news, and after learning the truth demands Guy properly propose so that they may have a real wedding. This kickstarts a series of wedding-themed montages that mirror, if not directly copy, the exact plotting of the original film. In fact, the opening and closing sequences of this film are so similar they practically include the same dialogue. It’s as poetic as a box of rocks, and it wreaks of the low-budget schmaltz one would expect from a Lifetime Original Movie or the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation.
It’s clear from the start that Vardalos wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 with her biggest, most rabid fans in mind, and I am almost certain they will be pleased with the final product. Every gag that became a topic of water cooler conversation in 2002 is back along with the cast, and they’re each stretched to the point of being transparent in their desperate attempts to recapture the magic of the original. The new ideas feel equally uninspired, such as a recurring gag where the older females ask one another to pull back their neck skin in the moments before a photo is taken. In fact, the media screening I attended even included an ad with Vardalos and Corbett, both looking like they would rather be anywhere else, encouraging audience members to take their own “pull my neck” photos and share it with a viral-ready hashtag.
The greatest mistake any sequel can make is trying give audiences more of everything they loved about the first film without attempting anything new, and that is precisely what has occurred with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. We moviegoers typically love spending more time with the characters we loved in the original, but if we wanted to see them do the same thing all over again we would just revisit the first film. The best sequels build on what worked in their predecessors, using that established knowledge to more quickly extend the universe with deeper stories and interactions that are only possible because the audience is already familiar with the universe in which the characters exist. My Big Fat Wedding 2 exploits the greatest hits of the original without adding anything new to the mix, and just like souvlaki it’s not as good the second time around.